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A powerful secret to career success

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Kim Meninger - Expert Author

Personal Business Skills Articles
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After many years, I finally had an opportunity to read Carly Fiorinaís (former Chairman & CEO of Hewlett-Packard) book, Tough Choices. One of the things that really resonated with me was her approach to each new role, initiative, or challenge that she encountered. Before rolling up her sleeves and diving in, she took the time to ask lots of questions. She made an effort to understand as much as she could from as many people as possible. By asking questions, she realized that she earned peopleís respect, as they appreciated her interest and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about themselves. She also learned a lot very quickly.

Asking questions is an incredibly powerful, and highly underutilized, career strategy. Think back to the last time you sat in a meeting, listening while others discussed something you didnít fully understand. Did you jump in with a question, or did you sit back, observe, and hope it would become clearer to you as the discussion progressed? If youíre like most people, you opted not to ask a question. Perhaps you worried that others would judge you for not knowing what everyone else seemed to know. Or, you were concerned about taking the discussion off-track.

Hereís another common scenario. Reflect back on the last time your manager asked you to take on a new project, or commit to a new goal, but you werenít entirely clear on his/her expectations. Did you ask follow up questions, or did you assume you would figure it out as you went along? Many people are afraid that by asking too many questions, their managers will think theyíre incompetent. The opposite is actually true. Asking questions reinforces your commitment to getting the job done right.

Each time you fail to ask a question, you miss a very important opportunity. Here are just some of the benefits of asking questions:

1. Acquire valuable information: This is the most obvious benefit of asking questions. If something isnít clear, or you want a deeper understanding, asking questions will expand your knowledge and increase your understanding. The better you understand something, the more confidently you can speak about it, and the more effectively you can do your job.

2. Be more productive: Without asking questions, you are bound to make inaccurate assumptions that result in wasted time and energy. Rather than speculate about the right approach to take, only to have to repeat the task when itís not done correctly, ask clarifying questions. The more clearly you understand the objectives and expectations, the more effectively and efficiently you will perform your job.

3. Increase your visibility: Many professionals spend much of their time in meetings. It certainly feels unproductive at times, but itís a great way to increase your visibility. By asking questions, people begin to notice you. You differentiate yourself as someone who is engaged in the discussion, interested in making a contribution, and capable of formulating thoughtful questions. People remember the people who add value.

4. Demonstrate your leadership potential: Itís human nature to fear being judged or looking foolish. Letís face it, there is certainly an element of vulnerability when you ask a question. It also brings great opportunity, however. When you ask a question, you take a leadership role. As conventional wisdom tells us, if you have a question, others likely have the same question. By asking your question, youíve put yourself out there and benefited others at the same time. Everyone else who was afraid to ask that same question will appreciate that you stepped forward.

5. Build relationships: If there is something you donít understand, or would like to learn more about, treat a subject matter expert to coffee and pick his/her brain. This is a great way to meet people in different functional groups and build valuable relationships. People love to talk about themselves and what they do! Theyíll appreciate the opportunity and youíll get some really useful information.

If asking questions is not your natural style, it can feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there. Find an opportunity to take a small step outside your comfort zone. If youíre not ready to raise your hand at your companyís next town hall meeting, try asking a question at your own team meeting. Each time you do this, you will feel more comfortable. And youíll become more confident, particularly as you begin to reap the benefits of this very powerful practice.

How do you feel about asking questions? Do you find it empowering, or does it make you feel vulnerable?


About the Author

Kim Meninger works with professionals who are feeling stuck in their careers, struggling to reach higher levels, or navigating challenging career transitions.  Kim helps professionals clarify their career vision, identify career options that best align with their skills and interests, and apply job search strategies to more quickly and effectively find new opportunities and achieve their unique career goals.

Prior to coaching, Kim had a highly successful corporate career managing strategic business partnerships at EMC Corporation and Monster Worldwide.  She attributes much of her success to her strategic approach to career management.  Kim is passionate about helping other professionals use similar strategies to reach their full potential and maximize their career success.

Kim is a certified career coach and founder of Great Heights Coaching.  She has a BA in psychology and an MBA with a concentration in organizational leadership from Boston College.  She also holds certifications in career and life coaching from the Life Purpose Institute.  Kim is a CCE Board Certified Coach and an authorized facilitator of Now What?ģ, a Life Blueprint program.  For more information, visit www.GreatHeightsCoaching.com.

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2013-03-07 09:09:20 in Personal Articles

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